Shanghai – The new AI Capital of the World?

Shanghai – The new AI Capital of the World?

Over 42,000 patent applications since 2019 and a world-class World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC), Shanghai is truly greasing its wheels into becoming THE global AI powerhouse

On a global scale, cities such as Singapore and Boston are regularly regarded as the ‘AI capitals’ of the world — and for good reason too. While Singapore has seen several billions of dollars being funnelled through both local AI schemes and foreign capital; Boston, proud home to firms such as iRobot, Amazon Robotics and Boston Dynamics, finds fertile roots that cement it right atop the AI food chain as well. You’ll find several other cities from the global west on this list — San Francisco, New York, London, Montreal and Toronto, among several others.

Moving away from the West, Beijing today also finds its place near the top of this list, especially since the 2017-release of the Chinese government’s three-step programme to make the nation the ‘World Leader in AI’ by 2030. Unsurprisingly, to that end, we may soon be seeing a paradigm shift in the centrality of global AI power towards the East, with the growth of powerful AI-hungry cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan having accelerated monumentally over the past two-three years. Several reports from China claim as many as 390,000 AI patents to have been filed over the course of the past decade.

According to patent data and analytics service provider PatSnap: “Overseas firms are still at the top of AI patent applications, including giants like Samsung, IBM, Intel and Apple, which ranked the 10th with 17,800 AI patent applications. Top Chinese firms for AI patents include Tencent with 16,700 applications and Huawei with 16,100”. Shanghai especially shines in this regard, having already seen an astronomical 42,000 AI patent applications over the past few years, based on findings from business reporter Zhu Shenshen.

Shanghai flexing its Muscles

That Shanghai, with its novel digital transformation and strategy blueprint, should now be considered firmly atop the AI food chain is portrayed none better than by their hosting of the recent World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) 2021. The conference, sprawled over 40,000 square metres of space, headlined “robots play(ing) chess and offer(ing) massage services, intelligent algorithms to recognize Oracle characters, micro “AI brains” for urban management and autonomous vehicles.”

Here are some of the other major developments:

  • Shanghai-based IntSig Information has released the next-generation of novel Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software that can analyse and read, among others, Oracle characters through its smart-character and document recognition techniques.

Additionally, according to Shine News China, “It displayed a real time carbon emission reduction figure, fuelled by its OCR technologies used in business cards and fiscal reports helping people use less paper. It also displayed a “digital governance brain” with data collection and analysis for the city digital transformation”’

Figure 1: The OCR reading Oracle characters; Source: Shine News (China)

  • Shanghai-based cloud service provider, Ucloud introduced its ‘AI box’ – a suite of AI-based tools including temperature measurement, computer vision, facial recognition, picture comparison etc. that can be used on cloud-based platforms — a big step forward towards a complete edge computing landscape.

Additionally, Shine reports: “During WAIC, Ucloud announced cooperation with TurningQ, a start-up incubated by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. They will cooperate on quantum computing and quantum-cloud platform.”

  • Qomolo launched its self-driving L5 autonomous truck equipped with 360-degree sensors with driving guidance and traffic monitoring systems. Also a user of Ucloud’s AI box, it is currently seeking out domestic business opportunities in the Belt and Road regions

Figure 2: The Qumolo L5 Autonomous; Source: Shine News (China)

  • Chinese tech firm UBTech launched WalkerX, China’s first large-scale humanoid robot embedded with six different AI technologies and eight other core functions. WalkerX enthralled audiences at this year’s WAIC, demonstrating several skills, such as playing chess; visual positioning navigation; fast-walking, walking on uneven ground and single-leg balancing; compliant force-controlled massaging; as well as regular household tasks such as pouring water, serving tea, watering flowers or wiping tables – among several others.

Image: The UBTechWalkerX; Source: Shine News (China)

Chief Brand Officer of UBTech, Michael Tam, regarded this launch as no less than a ‘breakthrough’ for the Chinese service robot sector.

  • Shanghai-based SenseTime premiered its SenseAuto AR-Robobus featuring autonomous driving and augmented reality display services in vehicles, claiming driveability in fixed L4 autonomous driving zones.

Apart from the plethora of local AI-based talent, several multinational corporations, including Amazon, Microsoft, General Electric, Merck, Baidu, Tencent, Huawei and AliBaba have also set up AI facilities in Shanghai, while chip manufacturers like Cambricon are also coming through to set up high-end chip manufacturing units.

According to research from Shine: “In Shanghai, the AI talent number hit 187,000 by July of 2020, taking a leading position nationwide. In the city, 104 AI-related degree programs have been set up by 38 universities and colleges.”

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